Biden bypasses federal laws to construct US border wall

The latest decision is a reversal of policy for the US President, who previously said no taxpayer funds would be used to build a barrier

Migrants gather near the border wall separating the US and Mexico. Reuters
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President Joe Biden's administration on Thursday announced it would waive several federal laws to extend construction of the US southern border wall, reversing White House policy and a campaign promise.

In a notice posted on the Federal Register, the Department of Homeland Security said there was “an acute and immediate need” to construct barriers and roads near the border in Starr County, Texas in order “to prevent unlawful entries into the United States in the project areas.”

While campaigning for office in 2020, Mr Biden said there would not be “another foot of wall” constructed during his administration.

And shortly after taking office, he said that taxpayer funds would not be used to build a border wall.

The announcement comes as Mr Biden is once again facing pressure from Republicans over his policies along the southern border with Mexico. The recent migrant surge has put a strain on the Texas town of Eagle Pass in particular, prompting the town's mayor to declare a state of emergency.

As Mr Biden gears up for his re-election campaign next year, the move is “a symbolic gesture” to Republicans as well as others that he is addressing the situation at the border, said David Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, told The National.

“It's another example of the Biden administration attempting to placate its critics by doing what the Trump administration would do in response to rising levels of immigration at the border,” he explained.

He said that building new barriers is not going to help the Biden administration solve the issue of illegal migration.

“We have a disorganised illegal immigration issue, and a border wall is not going to be the solution to that,” Mr Bier said and added that the extension of the wall is likely to result in injury as some migrants try to scale it.

Speaking ahead of a briefing in the White House, Mr Biden said his administration had tried to redirect the funding for the wall to other projects but had not succeeded.

“Meantime, there's nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated for – I can't stop that,” he told reporters.

Answering a question about whether a wall would stop illegal immigration, he answered: “No.”

Erecting a border wall between the US and Mexico was a central policy of former president Donald Trump's administration. The 2024 Republican front-runner has often attacked Mr Biden for his immigration policies.

Mr Trump also shut down the government in 2018-2019 over demands to receive funding to construct the border wall. He lifted the shutdown 35 days later after receiving no funding.

In a post on his Truth Social platform, Mr Trump asked whether “Joe Biden apologise to me and America for taking so long to get moving” on the border.

The DHS said the Rio Grande Valley Sector is an area of “high illegal entry”, with Border Patrol encountering more than 245,000 migrants trying to enter the US from this point of entry this year.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said construction would be funded by a 2019 appropriation to build the border wall.

But the announcement drew condemnation from environmental advocates who say construction will threaten plant and wildlife as well as endangered species such as the ocelot, a spotted wildcat.

“Every acre of habitat left in the Rio Grande Valley is irreplaceable,” Laiken Jordahl, a south-west conservation advocate at the Centre for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

“We can’t afford to lose more of it to a useless, medieval wall that won’t do a thing to stop immigration or smuggling.”

It also drew criticism from members of Mr Biden's Democratic Party.

“A border wall is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem. It will not bolster border security in Starr County,” US Texas Representative Henry Cuellar said in a statement.

“I continue to stand against the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective border wall.”

The development is taking place as Mr Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are in Mexico on Thursday where they are holding talks with Mexican officials on cross border drug and gun smuggling, as well as migration.

“We will consider what more we can do to bring justice and bring to justice the criminal networks who profit from violence and suffering on both sides of our border, and we'll discuss how we can continue to enhance border and port security while facilitating legitimate travel and trade between us,” Mr Blinken said during a speech in Mexico City.

“We want to make sure that our border is also safe and secure.”

Speaking during his daily news conference, Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the announcement “is contrary to what President Biden had been proposing”.

Updated: October 05, 2023, 6:59 PM